Irish drill, jazz violin and supermarket musicals: 30 new artists for 2021

From the ferocious hardcore punk of Nicolas Cage Fighter to the ultra-meditative ambient of KMRU, discover new music from right across the pop spectrum

For Those I Love

The disbelieving, punch-drunk stare of the grieving has rarely been so vividly evoked as on the debut album by the Dublin artist David Balfe, written before and after the death of his best friend, Paul. His vocals are riveting, a kind of rhythmic spoken word that borders on rap, with lines that often flow far past bar divides, as if grasping at something permanently out of reach. There are shades of the first Streets album, not just in the delivery, but in the poetic recreation of club culture in the production. Read our interview with him here. BBT


The British label Dirty Hit’s USP isn’t genre-specific – its roster includes the maximalist pop star Rina Sawayama, the meta indie boys the 1975 and grunge-loving Beabadoobee – but lies in signing artists who inspire cult devotion. You can see it happening for Lowertown, AKA the Atlanta teenagers Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg. Their blown-out indie-rock hungers for reassurance in the face of anxious futures and apathetic friends and echoes the staticky existentialism of acts such as the Microphones, Alex G and Andrew Cedermark. LS


Raised in Thamesmead, south-east London, Enny has been rapping for years, but it is her warm and luscious tracks with the producer Paya that primed her recent breakthrough. The childhood influences of gospel, Lauryn Hill and J Cole resonate in her perceptive and inclusive outlook, shining on her home town tribute For South, but most of all on Peng Black Girls. A song as soothing as it is subtly pointed, it calls for the mainstream to recognise the diversity among Black girls and to acknowledge their contributions to culture: “Want fat booties like the Kardashians? No! / Want a fat booty like our aunties, yo!” LS

MoMa Ready.
MoMa Ready. Photograph: Ameer Kazmi

MoMa Ready

Some dance music is about hands in the air, but some is about keeping them next to your chest. The New York producer MoMa Ready is in the second category, making deep house with a lo-fi sound for maximum immediacy, as if he has locked eyes with you from the DJ booth. Warm yet mournful chords recall genre greats stretching from Larry Heard to Omar-S and Galcher Lustwerk, while his rugged, equally strong acid/breaks work with the producer AceMo (as AceMoMa) invites a more lairy stance. BBT

Zola Mennenöh

The German musician’s debut album finds her searching for her identity. Her singular vision suggests she already has a handle on it. Her bright and intimate songwriting meets the eerie existentialism of the Ninth Wave side of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, intermittently warmed and unsettled by an improv jazz sensibility: A Piece of Peace is calm and instinctive, yet Make Things Simple, all drones, thrashed chimes and sawed strings, pursues a more violent catharsis. Mennenöh has been mentored by Jenny Hval; the Norwegian’s welcoming avant garde approach, as well as that of Julia Holter, lit the way here. LS

Ivorian Doll

Relatively few female MCs have used the lurching bass and taunting flows of drill thus far, but Ivorian Doll is perhaps the most prominent in a growing field alongside her one-time foil Abigail Asante, Shaybo and more. Originally trained in the high-intensity drama of vlogging, she brings uproarious punchlines and Kevlar sexuality to tracks such as her breakthrough Rumours, while her forthcoming EP expands into rhythms made for strutting through a club’s velvet rope – or, for now, down your hallway on TikTok. Read our interview with her here. BBT

Nicolas Cage Fighter

Nicolas Cage Fighter.
Nicolas Cage Fighter. Photograph: Publicity image

Their name suggests wacky japes, but this Australian quartet aren’t messing about: this is extremely hardcore punk with death-metal roaring strewn across minimalist riffs. On Black Jackal, the “black dog” of depression becomes all the more ferocious, and the theme of mental health crops up on the equally strong singles Dead Ends and Devil’s Head. That jackal is ultimately held at bay, testament to the catharsis they provide. BBT

Erika de Casier

Until recently, Denmark’s music scene was best known outside the country for the heavy noise of the Copenhagen label Posh Isolation. These days, the elegant club experimentalism of Smerz and Aarhus-based Regelbau label and producer Erika de Casier has come to the fore. The latter’s 2019 debut Essentials became an underground hit thanks to her minimalist take on turn-of-the-millennium R&B. Recently signed to 4AD, she has teased her second album with No Butterflies, No Nothing, which adds new-age atmospherics and a bassy undertow to her lovelorn intimacy. She was also chosen to remix Dua Lipa’s Physical, converting her mechanical workout into a dispatch from a mysterious glade. LS

Myke Towers

It feels odd to be recommending as a “one to watch” someone who already has hundreds of millions of streams, but, in the UK, Myke Towers is almost totally unknown, despite huge fame in Latin America. The Puerto Rican rapper and singer has lent languid charm to some of the continent’s best pop songs of 2020 – Ozuna’s Caramelo, Jay Wheeler’s La Curiosidad, Nio Garcia’s La Jeepeta, Anitta’s Me Gusta – while his debut album, Easy Money Baby, allowed more of a showcase for his percussive rap style. A solo smash single seems inevitable. BBT

Denise Chaila.
Denise Chaila. Photograph: Roisin Murphy O’Sullivan

Denise Chaila

When Denise Chaila performed on Irish TV staple Other Voices this summer, she received death threats from racists who couldn’t accept the Zambia-born, Limerick-raised rapper as Irish. “If the definition of Irishness is that fragile, then it deserves to crumble,” she reflected. Chaila reflects the breadth of contemporary Irish identity: she met her collaborators at a charismatic Brazilian church and got to know them through Bible study. Her charismatic, wry lyricism calls out people who won’t pronounce her name properly (“It’s not Chilala / Not a hard pill to swalla”) while celebrating the richness of Irish culture. Anseo, from her recent debut Go Bravely, means “here” in Irish, and Chaila uses the word to show off her versatility: she can be your “Black James Bond”, “Sailor Moon remixed by Fela” or meet for a “spice box”, the cult late-night staple found in Ireland’s Chinese takeaways. “What’s Irish rap?” she asks in a mocking voice on Copper Bullet. “It’s a sound that you can’t predict.” LS

Johanna Burnheart

The first jazz violin undergraduate at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the rare violinist in London’s renowned contemporary jazz scene, Frankfurt-born Johanna Burnheart takes an unusual approach to her instrument, one also inspired by the club scene from her time living in Berlin. Her 2020 debut, Burnheart, soothes and scratches; cavernous bass, piercing sharpness and slurred vocals subvert any linear sense. She feels primed for a breakout similar to Anna Meredith or Oliver Coates. LS

Lol K

There is a seance-like atmosphere to The Breeze, the recent EP from this south London duo, as they convene with all manner of their city’s styles – dub, drill, garage, punk, dancehall, even folk – to conjure a grotesque eldritch hybrid. In a world of bland Spotify genre demarcations, it is thrilling to be subsumed in something so slippery. BBT


The “alté” scene in Nigeria set itself apart from the country’s mainstream pop in recent years with a free association of aesthetics and influences, and its spirit is shared by Ghana’s Amaarae. Singing in a distinctive breathily high-pitched register, her debut The Angel You Don’t Know uses Afrobeats and dancehall rhythms – but also brings in drowsy guitar lines, the body highs of R&B and muted trap influences from Atlanta, where she was partly raised. Read our interview with her here. BBT

Wendy Eisenberg.
Wendy Eisenberg. Photograph: Ellery Berenger

Wendy Eisenberg

The music of Wendy Eisenberg – who uses gender-neutral pronouns – music might sound naive: their soft voice and digressive guitar seem to follow their train of thought as they contemplate breakups, childhood trauma and aspiration (“You don’t have to join the race,” Slow Down reassures). It belies their virtuosity: following a childhood assault, Eisenberg regained control over their life by mastering their instrument; a deep-thinking aficionado of bossa nova and autofiction, they are trained in classical music and jazz. In Auto, one of two albums they released in 2020, Eisenberg honours the dissociation that stems from their PTSD with a more splayed approach: in Futures, tidy scale climbing suddenly breaks into battering post-rock. Auto shares a similarly instinctive spirit to Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters; Eisenberg has said their main vocal influences are “some ungodly hybrid” of Astrud Gilberto and Green Gartside. LS

As Everything Unfolds

This High Wycombe six-piece could be another UK pop-metalcore crossover in the mould of Architects or Bring Me the Horizon and a possible future Download or Reading headliner. Frontwoman Charlie Rolfe offsets the earnest, outstretched-hand chorus delivery of Evanescence’s Amy Lee with a convincingly apoplectic metalhead roar, while her band remain perkily taut throughout their time signature changes. BBT

Louisa Melcher

Louisa Melcher’s understated Broadway-inspired song New York Summer took off when the musician Daniel Metzlufft (a key part of the TikTok Ratatouille musical) turned one lyric into a set piece. Scaled to heart-busting heights, the line: “And we’re fighting in the grocery store / And I love you but I don’t know if I like you any more,” went viral as kids acted out their own supermarket dramas, often adding that they thought the original song sucked. They are wrong! The 22-year-old theatre studies graduate sits halfway between Taylor Swift and Frankie Cosmos, an anthropologist of fading relationships and crushing self-awareness. LS

Baby Keem

Baby Keem.
Baby Keem. Photograph: Cam Hicks

Two albums deep already, the Las Vegas rapper is likely to step up a league in 2021 after becoming the first signing to Kendrick Lamar’s new creative company pgLang. There is a little bit of Lamar’s sing-song mode to his flow, also harking back to the meandering but melodious likes of Lil Uzi Vert and Young Nudy. He co-produces most of his tracks, too, tending towards the kind of lo-fi trap fantasias Pi’erre Bourne creates for Playboi Carti and others. BBT

Genesis Owusu

As a Ghanaian boy growing up in Canberra, Kofi Owusu-Ansah often had to contort himself to fit in. He dropped Owusu to accommodate teachers who wouldn’t pronounce it right and adopted the nickname Genesis when kids couldn’t believe he was called Kofi. Later, he realised he “wasn’t really down with the whole assimilation thing and decided to wear the outcast label loudly”. Recent singles The Other Black Dog and Don’t Need You echo the dry, jolting funk of latter day Metronomy, Owusu seeming to rap from a heaving chest; his forthcoming debut album, Smiling With No Teeth, explores the effort of “slathering honey on your demons to make them palatable to people who only want to know if you’re OK if the answer is yes”. LS


His face obscured by the unsettling spiral mask of Obito from the anime series Naruto, rather than the ski masks or balaclavas often favoured by drill MCs, Offica creates eerie theatrics even before he steps on the mic. His accent, situated between his Irish and Nigerian heritage, gives his lyrics a mournful musicality, particularly on the standout 2020 track, Opor. He even recently made it to the Top 40 with his characterful Irish crew A92 and their Plugged in Freestyle. BBT

Lucinda Chua.
Lucinda Chua. Photograph: Tash Tung

Lucinda Chua

Lucinda Chua has strong post-rock roots. As a teenager, she witnessed Mogwai performing with a cellist, which inspired her to realise the possibilities of the instrument she mastered growing up in Milton Keynes. She later toured with Slint and Stars of the Lid. But as a solo artist – one newly signed to 4AD – her music is more open-hearted and hopeful, exploring and expanding the possibilities of resonance via FX pedals, while her poised and empathic vocals recall Joni Mitchell circa Blue. LS


The Kenyan musician Joseph Kamaru was little known before 2020, but after a glorious glut of seven full-length releases and various other one-offs arriving on streaming services over the past year, he is now regarded as one of the leading ambient artists working today. Using field recordings of his surroundings alongside software, instrumentation and samples, there are shades of Philip Jeck, William Basinski and Sarah Davachi to his reverberant, richly detailed washes of abstract expressionist sound. BBT


Little is known about Grace-Attalie. Born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and based in Johannesburg, South Africa, she discovered her love of music after coming across a Chris Brown CD. Thankfully, her own work couldn’t be further from his rote R&B. Her extraordinary deep and ghostly voice brings to mind those of Anohni, Sade and the former Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe. You got the sense of her holding back amid the fleet-footed Latin influences of her 2018 EP Polluted; Attalie’s captivating forthcoming EP complements her muscular, soothing instrument with spacious piano and a meditative pace. LS

Aquiles Navarro

This Canadian-Panamanian trumpeter had a hand in two of the most stirring jazz releases of 2020: Heritage of the Invisible II, with drummer Tcheser Holmes, and Who Sent You?, as a member of the group Irreversible Entanglements (also featuring the blistering poet Moor Mother). His playing features glorious improvised fanfares as if announcing the arrival of some cosmic dignitary, as well as repeated melodic themes, providing a brightly lit entry point into jazz’s outer regions. BBT

Sweeping Promises

Lira Mondal, the frontwoman of this Boston outfit, has an instantly classic post-punk voice in the lineage of Siouxsie Sioux and Ari Up: someone who can declare and sing at the same time. The band’s songs can be Devo-ish and scatterbrained, but the basslines, squatting conspicuously in the mix with a weightlifter’s heft, keep them rooted, and the lo-fi recording is gorgeous. Fans of riot grrrl, Priests and (in the funky bassline of An Argument) Spoon will find much to love. BBT

Klein Zage

The spirits of Jenny Hval, Peaches and Sweet Female Attitude resonate through the productions of Sage Redman, a Seattleite who discovered club culture while studying popular music at Goldsmiths in London. Over subtly euphoric house and warped bass workouts, she pays homage to periods and pleasure (on 2019 EP Womanhood, a release on her own label, Orphan Records) and to the service industry on 2020’s brilliantly named Tip Me Baby One More Time, its title track contrasting pointed observations about crappy customers with a dreamy UK garage chorus. LS

BackRoad Gee

His sparring partner Pa Salieu has been widely and rightly tipped as a one to watch, but BackRoad Gee is easily his match. The London drill rapper’s Congolese-accented flow, peppered with punchily declarative ad libs, is wildly confident, the kind of tone used to rally protesters or scorn the sinful from a pulpit. Or indeed a moshpit: this is rap at its most viscerally, slam-dancingly thrilling. BBT

Holly Humberstone

Twenty-year-old Holly Humberstone started 2020 on tour with Lewis Capaldi and ended it on the BBC Sound of 2021 list. But the Grantham songwriter’s music is at odds with that conventional path to British pop stardom – she is not offering bland post-Adele stadium emoting. Humberstone trades in the bruised intimacy that made a star out of Phoebe Bridgers: she thinks in terms of “tattoo lyrics”, words fans might want to inscribe on their bodies for life. Deep End, about pulling one of her three sisters out of a depressive rut, barely suppresses her desperation as she tries to maintain an even keel for two; Falling Asleep at the Wheel, the title track of her 2020 EP, wields Lorde-style vocal flurries and anxiously insistent piano to try to revive a dying relationship. LS

Tori Handsley.
Tori Handsley. Photograph: Publicity image

Tori Handsley

With Mercury nominee Moses Boyd as her drummer, forming a supple rhythm section with bassist Ruth Goller plus Sahra Gure on vocals, Tori Handsley’s recent debut album as bandleader broadened the palette of the ongoing British jazz revolution by foregrounding the electric harp alongside her piano. Her harp playing features the pretty Alice Coltrane-esque cascades of notes you would expect, but adds a rough distorted edge, shredding somewhere between electric guitar and organ. BBT

Lou Hayter

A pop lifetime ago, Lou Hayter was a member of the excellent New Young Pony Club (long overdue a reassessment after being unfairly lumped in with flimsy nu-rave). Since leaving the band in 2012, she has been an in-demand DJ and played with Air’s JB Dunckel. Her forthcoming solo debut is paradise for a certain kind of 80s pop crate-digger, bringing together the streetwise pop of Jam and Lewis-era Janet Jackson, early Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys. Fans of Ronika and second-album La Roux – both of which also deserved far greater props than they ever got – listen up. LS


Dance producer Nicholas Worrall grew up in Milton Keynes, and the urge to match his background on to his music is irresistible. Like the utopian new town, edging further from modernism into kitsch with every passing year, Worrall’s sound is as bright, clean and hyperreal as a new shopping centre – yet buzzing with the junglism and trance raves you see advertised there. Touchstones are Kraftwerk’s Electric Café, Japanese ambient, James Ferraro, and the vocal sampling and arrangements of Minor Science. BBT

  • Which new artists are you excited for in 2021? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tunisian techno, Xitsongan rap and Satanic doo-wop: the best new music of 2019
From cheeky rappers to explosive hardcore punks, we introduce 50 artists sure to make an impact in the coming year

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Laura Snapes and Ammar Kalia

28, Dec, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
From Arsedestroyer to Zoogz Rift: 50 underground albums you've never heard of
Sexed-up Canadian synthpop, Japanese junglism, ritualistic Finnish bear-hunting music … our writers pick treasures from the darkest corners of their record collections

24, Oct, 2017 @10:51 AM

Article image
The 100 best albums of the 21st century
We polled 45 music writers to rank the definitive LPs of the 21st century so far. Read our countdown of passionate pop, electrifying rock and anthemic rap – and see if you agree

Ben Beaumont-Thomas (1-50); Laura Snapes and April Curtin (51-100)

13, Sep, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Thurston Moore, Holly Herndon and more on today's musical underground
Thurston Moore, The Black Madonna and other underground musicians discuss how the scene continues to mutate – and why quantum physics is where today’s avant garde truly resides

Rachel Aroesti

27, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2019: the full list
Our pick of the year’s finest albums brings American dreaming, teenage dynamism, heartbreak, barbed rap, impetuous indie and beautiful soundscapes

20, Dec, 2019 @9:41 AM

Article image
The month's best music: Post Malone, Björk, Lorenzo Senni and more
From Charlotte Gainsbourg’s delicate minimalism to kick-ass indie-punk by Dream Wife – plus Somali disco and elegant techno – here are 50 of the month’s best tracks

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Rachel Aroesti

02, Oct, 2017 @11:29 AM

Article image
50 great tracks for July from TisaKorean, Trash Kit, Ellen Arkbro and more
From Lifted’s new age jazz to Flume’s best track yet, here are 50 new tracks to check out this month – and read about our 10 favourites

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Laura Snapes and Sarah Staniforth

09, Jul, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
The 100 greatest BBC music performances – ranked!
As the Beeb celebrates its centenary, we take a look at its most memorable pop moments, from the birth of grime to the first sightings of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, plus TOTP goes Madchester and countless classic Peel sessions

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2022 @12:12 PM

Article image
Ragga-metal, Y2K R&B and folk legends: 30 acts to see at Glastonbury
From big names including Arctic Monkeys and Kelis to must-see cult acts such as Yaya Bey and Vigro Deep, our music editors pick out the essential sets

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes

20, Jun, 2023 @8:46 AM

Article image
From Ghetts to Genesis, Nick Cave to Arlo Parks: autumn 2021’s essential music
From Fontaines DC to the Valkyrie, a techno Halloween to Little Simz, this is the unmissable music of the next few months

Alexis Petridis, Ammar Kalia and Andrew Clements

25, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM